Happy Birthday to the Greatest Voice of Them All


Screen Shot 2014-01-08 at 6.07.49 AMI did not realize just what the opposite sex entailed until Saturday, May 6, 1978 at approximately 1:30PM Eastern Daylight Time.  It was then that I first encountered Sherrill Milnes.  It would be the first of many obsessive encounters, the last being around 2000 or so when he did a recital at the Spencer Theater.  I will admit I followed the man from Atlanta to Greenville, to Memphis, Miami, Houston, New York, Palm Beach, and so forth and so on.  In an era that many of us consider the Second Golden Age of Opera, he was one of the greats, the greatest of the great.

“...Sherrill Milnes is universally acclaimed as the foremost operatic baritone of his generation. A superstar in every sense, the adulation he receives is the kind usually reserved for tenors. His remarkable voice, artistic integrity, commanding stage presence and rugged handsomeness have made him a favorite for all audiences. In 2008 he was honored with the receipt of the Opera NewsAward for Distinguished Achievement. …”

I don’t mind admitting the Tosca he did with Domingo is probably the greatest version of my favorite baritone, doing one of my favorite baritone roles, in one of my favorite operas, set in one of my favorite costume periods.  Let’s face it, a Regency junkie can’t ask for anything any better than this!

There is nothing more this former groupie can say about Sherrill Milnes that hasn’t already been said.  He is simply the greatest baritone there ever was and ever will be.  He put the hunk in the term Barihunk, before we even knew what a barihunk was. I guess the most exciting thing about the way his retirement has turned out is watching the way he is being honored and treated.  Let’s face it, he’s the Ted Williams of opera!

“…He has the distinction of being the most recorded American opera singer. ..”

“…The baritone has received numerous honors during his distinguished career, including seven honorary doctoral degrees. He is particularly proud of being named as a Commendatore of the Italian Republic for his long commitment to Italian opera. In 1987 he received New York City’s Seal of Recognition for his rich contribution to the city’s cultural life. Mr. Milnes was also chosen by the American Bible Society to receive the 25 millionth copy of its Good News Bible, and in 1993 he organized a benefit concert in Vienna’s famed St. Stephen’s Cathedral for the victims of the Bosnia-Herzegovina War. In September 1996, Mr. Milnes was honored by the French government with the distinguished Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and in 2003 he became a member of the Lincoln Academy, the highest honor awarded by the state of Illinois. …”

I was on of the fortunate ones to see Milnes and Domingo live at the Met, in recital!

One of the most exciting things is that he is now teaching young singers.  There is an entire generation of young baritones who are following in his footsteps.  He has made being a baritone a glamorous job!

“...His was the rare international career made entirely in the U.S.A. While other American singers went abroad in search of stage experience and exposure, Milnes honed his skills on his native soil: his galley years were spent with the Chicago Symphony Chorus and on tour with the Goldovsky Opera Theater in small towns across the country – a period he remembers as “my Fulbright Scholarships.” The beginning of his Met career (he made his dazzling debut, as Valentin in Faust, in the last season of the old house) overlapped with his tenure at City Opera, and he was an established star at home by the time he bowed in the great houses of Europe.

Milnes’s voice – lean, muscular, powerful, yet somehow richly lyrical too, and capable of the utmost tenderness – seemed a perfect fit for a vast range of sharply drawn characterizations of imposing strength and seething passion. His instrument was flexible not only in terms of technique and style but in its ability to reflect in sound the variegated emotional landscape of roles ranging from heartless villains to conflicted father figures to angry rivals to impetuous ideologues. Paradoxically, this chameleonic vocal quality remained instantly recognizable and distinct. The last in a line of great American Verdi baritones, he admired his predecessors Lawrence Tibbett, Robert Merrill and Leonard Warren and shared certain of their musical virtues, but no one could ever have mistaken him for any of them. His upper extension was sui generis: the way he soared into the vocal stratosphere was a mind-boggling feat of aerial derring-do. …”

The day of my grandfather Froehlich’s funeral, I discovered that Sherrill Milnes was going to be doing a recital in Palm Beach the following evening.  I’m not even ashamed to admit that, before Grandy’s funeral, I had to make sure I had tickets for his recital the following night.  It’s an opera thing!

I loved watching his Giovanni.  I swear I saw it a half dozen times in various and sundry locations.  He could buckle a swash like Errol Flynn in his glory days!

Screen Shot 2014-01-08 at 6.06.47 AMOpera fans are a weird lot.  I don’t mind admitting I pouted for years after he retired.  Why bother listening to opera, I’d never find another great baritone.  Fortunately, I was 100% wrong.  Dmitri Hvorostovsky is a worthy successor.

I love my opera and I love my baritones.  I’ve quit pouting and don’t mind admitting that there are other great baritones out there.  None will be as great as my baritone, but you know, Hvorostovsky isn’t bad at all.

I love baritones so much, in the murder mystery series I’m writing, my hero is a baritone.  In many ways, the bane of his existence is Sherrill Milnes, to whom his wife is constantly comparing him too, at all times.  She also calls him her Second Favorite Baritone,  just to annoy him.

Okay, so I’m still a groupie.  I can’t help it.  Once upon a time, he told me he was no longer going to autograph photos for me.  He said I had enough to wall paper my bathroom.  You know – maybe I do.